King of Staves

The King of Staves is, to put it one way, the kind of person who carpes the fuck out of that diem. There is no mountain too tall, no river too wide, no quest too risky, and no task too intimidating. Nothing keeps this king down, any obstacle put in his path is either gone over, under, around, or simply obliterated.

King of Staves 1.3

King of Staves 1.3

Really, when this project is over, we should make a donation to the Berkeley parks department- we’ve used a wide selection of them so far, and we’re only just past halfway (in shooting). This particular photo was shot in Live Oak park, at a good bonfire pit we knew Stephanie could get in and on.

King of Staves 2.1

King of Staves 2.1

It was a rather small fire, as we knew we wouldn’t be shooting for that long, and we didn’t want to waste a lot of wood and have to lug a lot of water to put a big blaze out- still, I think it worked out just fine. It burned bright and hot while it went, and yet was still small enough that Stephanie could get right down next to it with no immediate ill-effect.

King of Staves 3.2

King of Staves 3.2

This was another one of those photos (the staves seemed to have a lot of these!) where I ended up having to do a lot of background editing that I didn’t notice in the moment. Part of growing as a photographer is learning to be aware not only if your background is aesthetically pleasing and properly situated, but also if there are any little benches, sprinklers, pedestrians, street lights, or small signs that are going to have to be taken out later. I’m sure that before we make these into a finished deck, I’m going to be going back through and removing even more items I didn’t notice on the first pass.

King of Staves 4.2

King of Staves 4.2

Number four here is my personal favorite- it was pure chance, as the best photos often are- Stephanie was trying to get her hair out of her face without breaking her pose, and it ended up with an image that looks as though it should be on the cover of the best kind of bodice-ripper. Which, frankly, is the perfect look for the King of Staves.

King of Staves 5.2

King of Staves 5.2

Steph’s take can be seen here, and the full Flickr group is here, as usual.


Queen of Staves

The Queen of Staves- an independent woman who knows what she wants and takes it at will. Courageous, powerful, confident, and experienced, she rules with strength and wisdom.

Queen of Staves 1.2

Queen of Staves 1.2

The Queen is one of those cards that Steph and I disagree on- it’s funny how sometimes we disagree on the execution, and sometimes we disagree on the outcome. In this case, we were both completely on board for ballroom dance, we both loved her dress, we both thought the columned area at the end of Lake Merritt was great, and the outcome… Stephanie loves, and I am so-so.

Queen of Staves 2.2

Queen of Staves 2.2

This second shot is probably my favorite. I like the fact that the Queen has an escort, because I think the Staves are very much about the passion and joy of life, and for the Queen, I think it makes sense that she derive some of that from the company of others. She is enjoying herself while being lovely and dancing, but she needs a partner in order to dance the steps she prefers. I like in this image that she’s off-guard and happy, rather than the lovely, but more posed, nature of some of the other images.

Queen of Staves 3.3

Queen of Staves 3.3

I do like the use of some of the columns, but technically speaking, this was a hard batch of photos to edit. It was very bright in the sun, and very dark in the shadows. There were a ton of people walking around, many of whom were interested in what we were doing, which is lovely, but also distracting. It was windy. I had to edit out a lot of skyscrapers and chains and various cars. I can do these things, but I prefer not to- I always worry that it leaves the photo looking overly manipulated, and of course, it takes a long time.

Queen of Staves 4.2

Queen of Staves 4.2

I do think that the images are decent enough- I like how warm they came out, and our extra, Alan, did a terrific job being gallant and handsome and not stealing the spotlight. It’s always interesting working with extra folks- some, like Alan, immediately understand what their role is to be. Some are enthusiastic, but have a harder time getting quite exactly what I want them to do. All of our extras have been great sports about the pushing and prodding and general objectification that goes on. All of them have given me great photos.

Queen of Staves 5.1

Queen of Staves 5.1

The Staves have been a suit that I have particularly enjoyed shooting- we have now, at the time of this writing, shot a fair number of the next suit (the chalices), and they are going perfectly well. I know Stephanie likes them because they’ve been very pretty. But I enjoyed the challenge of the staves- the motion, the action; the attempt to imbue energy into a static art form.

Queen of Staves 6.2

Queen of Staves 6.2

Stephanie’s take can be found here, as well as the full Flickr set here.

Knight of Staves

The Knight of Staves- a card of impulsive passion, of full presence in the moment. A card of the body, of the heart, of energy and the uninhibited joy of life.

Knight of Staves 1.3

Knight of Staves 1.3

The colors needed to be warm, and I wanted as much sun involved as we could get without washing Steph out, so we went again to John Hinkle park in Berkeley, which is becoming a favorite shooting location. It has a large tiered ampitheater at one end, so I knew that I could get some height differences in the shots, which I thought would be important- straight forward shots are terrible for anything trying to show action, and that seemed key to this card.

Knight of Staves 2.3

Knight of Staves 2.3

I knew that I wanted as many of the Staves to be action shots as possible right from the beginning, and especially so for the court cards. My initial thought for the Knight had been something along the lines of tai chi, but we already had a sort of vaguely-fighting-motion going on in the Ace, so when Steph hit on belly dance, it seemed like it could work.

The immediate difficulty, of course, was that Stephanie has never studied belly dance, which I admit, as someone who has studied it (a bit), made me skeptical about how well she was going to be able to pull it off. Most forms of dance are difficult to mimic, because they’re so exacting in the lines of the body and ease of execution, but belly dance in particular requires a certain controlled abandon in order to look appealing, rather than silly.

Knight of Staves 3.3

Knight of Staves 3.3

Modeling is hard, at first, for most women. We are trained from an early age to either feel very awkward in front of the camera, or to ham it up in a specific set of poses, neither of which work well for artistic modeling. It requires a level of trust in the photographer, that they know what they are doing and are as invested in a good outcome as you are, and a trust in yourself, that you are actually able to look like “someone” who would appear in “art photos”*.

This is hard. It was hard for me when I started modeling 12 years ago, and it has been hard for Stephanie throughout this process. It helps that we are close friends, but that suspension of disbelief needed to fake an unknown skill in an uncomfortable situation was going to be key to this shoot.

Knight of Staves 4.2

Knight of Staves 4.2

I’ll be honest- I was prepared to have to shoot again. But Stephanie surprised me. She did her research, she gave herself over to the process, and in the end, we have one of my personal favorite shoots of all the staves. She let herself take the risk that she would look silly, or like she was faking it (and, of course, in some of the outtakes, she did), but she was able to convince herself enough that she convinced the camera.

Photographing people is a tricky business, which is part of why I agreed to this project in the first place- I wanted to become better at it. A truly gifted photographer can find the beauty in all persons, but most of us are not that good, and even the best are only preserving what is truly there. A camera and the person behind it can capture the best angle, sure,  but there’s no invention, no CGI. Yes, perhaps that angle and lighting are not what you see in the bathroom mirror, or even what people see on a daily basis, but make no mistake- for that moment, you were that beautiful.

Knight of Staves 5.2

Knight of Staves 5.2

*We all have these constructs of “what kind of person” does “what kind of thing”- “someone who would appear in art photos”, “someone who can sing in public”, “someone who could be in charge”- it’s funny how we only seem to have constructs around things we think we can’t do. The things we do are simply downgraded to “things anyone could do”, while we don’t even consider the possibility that we are capable of or already doing the things in our untouchable constructs.

Page of Staves

The Page of Staves. The exuberant unconsciousness of youth. Plunging headfirst into whatever adventure is coming forth. Boldly going where no one has gone before.

Page of Staves 1.3

This first image is by far my favorite. I really wanted a better shot of Stephanie jumping off the swing than I ended up with (which had more to do with the power lines and the dying light than either of us, but w/e), but this one with the orange swing set and the bare feet I think really works.

Page of Staves 2.3

We took a lot of shots with me lying under the swings, which I know made her nervous- having had my front baby teeth kicked out as a kid in two different instances, you’d think I’d be more wary, but I guess it instead had the effect of “ehh, not so bad!”. I then proceeded to be the bad friend who encouraged Stephanie to swing higher and higher before leaping off the swing so I could catch shots of her in mid-air.

Sorry, Steph.

Page of Staves 3.2

I do like the sense of motion and risk in these- she’s leaping into the unknown, maybe not entirely comfortably, but with all the gusto of doing it anyway, which is what I think this card is all about.

Full Flickr set is here.


Ten of Staves

Ten of Staves 1.1

The Ten of Staves, while not a “death” card like the Ten of Blades, is still a card of an extreme, in this case, over-work. Whether it’s the stress, the physical labor, the long hours, the lack of joy in one’s job, this is the card of being pushed utterly to the end of what you can handle in whatever you Work is. This is traditionally shown as a man struggling to carry a bundle of sticks up a hill- a Sisyphean task of never-ending toil.

Ten of Staves 2.3

In this case, we got rather literal. We had ten staves, and I made Stephanie carry them. And it was rather heavy! We shot at Lake Anza, after trying and failing to find anything “deserty” that we could successfully drive to after work and still have light, but I actually think it turned out quite well. I like the tree roots and leaves for the backdrop a lot.

Ten of Staves 3.2

This was another “now hold still, while I look through the view-finder and make sure I can see every stick!” card, and it was a race against the setting sun to make sure we got the shots. I think there is at least one where it’s a “you just have to trust us, all ten are in the photo” image. I always try to avoid those- if it’s  a ten, I want you to be able to count them- but it gets more and more difficult the higher the numbers get.

Ten of Staves 4.2

Gravity was not our friend for this card- the area around Lake Anza is hilly, and no matter how still Stephanie sat, the sticks would inevitably roll away from where I placed them. I think the photos turned out great nonetheless- this is definitely one of my favorite of the Staves cards. I feel as though it really captures the sense of inwardly-focused over-burdenment that we were trying to communicate.

Ten of Staves 5.1

Stephanie’s thoughts on the experience can be found here, and the full Flickr set is here. Remember also our Black Widow Honey website, where you can see our ongoing retrospective of all the cards we’ve shot to date.

Ten of Staves 6.2

And then, when we were done, I climbed a tree. It was glorious.

Nine of Staves

Nine of Staves 1.1

The Watcher on the Wall. The Guardian at the Gate. The sentry. The look-out. One who has been tested and beaten in the past, one who is rightfully wary and cautious, but still standing ready and waiting for the inevitable foe.

Nine of Staves 2.2

This is a card all about hard-fought gains and imminent threat, about defending that which is ours. We shot it the same day as the Eight of Staves, but I wanted to make sure that it was visibly different. One of the ongoing challenges in every suit of cards is making sure that we’re not repeating ourselves, or, as we get further in suits, that we’re not too obviously calling back to previous cards without meaning to.

Nine of Staves 3.2

There’s a funny little tunnel under the road between the Berkeley Rose Garden and Cordinices Park, and we shot in front of it- it seemed like a defensive position, to me. I wanted it to visually show something that would be a reasonable thing to defend, instead of having just some unknown warrior in a field or some such. But this is visually a believable place to want to control, and likely one that could change hands and be fought over regularly.

Nine of Staves 4.2

The defender has been shot at, and the arrows lie in a pile on the ground. She stands to bar the way to all comers. None shall take what she has won, no matter how they strive.

Nine of Staves 5.2

Stephanie’s version of events is here, and as per always, the full set is on Flickr.

Eight of Staves

Eight of Staves 1.1

The Eight of Staves, traditionally depicted without a person in it at all, was always going to be a little bit difficult. How do you insert a human model into a card about change, messages, and swift action? How do you show flying arrows and the archer altogether?

Eight of Staves 2.2

The answer, in this case, was that you don’t. The camera we use is not fancy enough to do true action shots like an arrow in flight, and we didn’t have the equipment or the safe space available to do so anyway. The compromise was to show the arrows having been shot, implying the flight just a moment before, showing that they had been fired and struck their mark.

Eight of Staves 3.2

These photos were taken, as so many have been at this point, in the Berkeley Rose Garden, which has a rather wide variety of scenery in a very small and accessible location. I liked the imagery of the new redwood sprouts poking up among the dead leaves around the base of the arrows- after all, swift change and new information often brings new growth, new hope, new promise.

Eight of Staves 4.2

Swift change is neutral in of itself, of course- whether its change for the better or the worse is often up to you. There is also the inherent danger of becoming swept up in it, and letting important things slide, or finding yourself so focused on the change that you forget to enjoy the ride. On the other hand, it is so easy in life to become stuck in a rut without even realizing it’s happened, and we often need a swift kick in the pants just to wake us back up.

Eight of Staves 5.2

These two poses were suggested by our mutual friend, the lovely Iris, and they turned out to be two of my favorites. They’re more abstract, certainly, but there’s a suggestion of sitting in the eye of the storm, of deliberating a next move, that I find really intriguing. Where will the arrows fly? What will they strike? What messages will be tied to them?

Eight of Staves 6.2

It’s not an easy card, this- restlessness is in the air. Change is afoot, news is in flight, and it’s far too soon to begin to predict where the chips may fall. The paths are diverging in the wood, and the decisions are not yet made about whether to take the high road, the low road, or to jump of the cliff and fly.

Eight of Staves 7.2

Stephanie’s take can be found here, and as always, the full set is available for viewing here on Flickr.

Eight of Staves 8.1


Seven of Staves

Seven of Staves 1.3

The Seven of Staves. Like the Five and Seven of Blades, the Five and Seven of Staves have a similar feel to each other, and I think that’s definitely evident if you compare the cards side by side. But where the Five is friendly competition, even if it is in earnest, the Seven has lost that tone of good humor.

Seven of Staves 2.2

In the Seven of Staves, you are under attack. It may not be deadly serious; there are no sharp pointy things swinging about; but you can do plenty of damage with a solid stick. Those attacking are determined, and are not going to be discouraged without serious defense. They are not out to kill you, but they are not fooling around, either.

Seven of Staves 3.2

We shot both the Five and the Seven at the Berkeley Marina, in Cesar Chavez park, though in different spots. I had originally wanted to shoot on the rocks by the water, so that we could have a bit of “king of the mountain” imagery happening, with Stephanie defending the high ground against circling attackers, but it was absolutely freezing and extremely windy, and so we retreated to the south side of the park where it was more sheltered and there were no crashing waves.

Seven of Staves 4.1

We had a couple of the same assistants as we did for the Five, but it actually worked out so that we had a mostly different group, which I was quite pleased by. In a project like this, you eventually start irritating your friends and family with repeated requests to come freeze their butts off while you flail around with a camera. Fortunately, we have a very tolerant and generous bunch of willing victims (thanks to Ryan, Kyle, Sarah, Jack, Juniper, and Yansumi).

Seven of Staves 5.2

Shooting a group is always difficult- is everyone looking the right direction? Is someone mid-word? Who smiles better when they don’t know you’re taking the shot? But of course adding action to it always ups the complexity- they were all very patient with the “ok, now just a turn to the… THERE. DON’T MOVE. ok, now slowly take your stick and hit her…”

Seven of Staves 6.3

And of course the higher the number of the card, the more time I spend going “wait… one, two, three, four… ok, five… six, no, is that the same as five? *sigh* one, two, three, no that’s definitely a different stick, four…”. Also, in order to get everyone in the frame, with seven people, I had to do a lot of “ok, now scoot in close. No, closer. No, we’re talking no social boundaries at all folks, I mean CLOSE” to make sure that I was seeing everyone and everything I needed to see.

Seven of Staves 7.1

All of that aside, however, I think it was a rousing success. I’m very happy with how the photos turned out, and all of our volunteers were real troopers. Stephanie’s take can be found here, and all of images are also available on flickr. Also don’t forget about our Black Widow Honey website where we’re doing a retrospective of all the cards to date!

Six of Staves

The Six. Has taken. For-bloody-ever. Seriously.

Six of Staves 1.2

The six is a card of public triumph, generally showing someone on horseback with a laurel wreath and a cheering crowd. I nixed horseback, much to Stephanie’s dismay, and we tried for a cheering throng, but no one showed (note to self- invite people personally instead of with a mass email; it’s harder for them to wriggle out of it). So, my dear husband @kage23 became our stand-in for the Everyman, bless his affable heart.

Six of Staves 2.3

The other serious glitch is that I had been using an online photo editor, Picnik, to do my editing. (Yeah, yeah, all you Photoshop purists can shove it- my computer doesn’t have enough brainpower to handle PS.) However, Picnik got absorbed into Google+ and lost a lot of its features, and so I had to hunt for, and then learn, a new program.

Six of Staves 3.3

I think, unfortunately, the photos show that I was fumbling a bit. It took a lot of time to figure out how to use the different effects the way I wanted, and the backgrounds of the Berkeley Rose Garden, while lovely, involve a lot of little fiddly editing out of signs and watering spigots etc. I think they do get better as they go along, but it was a bit of a learning curve, and continues to be so.

Six of Staves 4.2

I expect I’ll at some point try to do some new edits of this card. I don’t think it’s bad, but I remain unsatisfied. We’ll see. Hopefully the sevens won’t be such a struggle, because heaven knows there are a lot of them.

I do like these last two, though.

Six of Staves 5.3

All images available on Flickr, as per usual.